13 January 2016

Christmas at Center Parcs

After a tough few months, we needed a holiday. But, just before Christmas, you have to fly quite a long way to get guaranteed weather. We'd had some fairly difficult flights with our little one, so after some research we decided to stay on British soil with a trip to Center Parcs just down the road from us at Longleat Forest.

We knew it might rain all week (which it did!) but it looked as though the whole resort was set up for activities both indoors and outdoors. And, we got a pretty good deal on a two bed executive lodge because we booked a mid week break (Monday to Friday). So, I ordered a case of wines from Naked Wines and a week's worth of food, bundled it all into the car and we were all set.
The living area of our executive lodge

I was reasonably sceptical beforehand. I was concerned that it would be a bit like a middle class Butlins in the forest, with loads of naff and forced activities. I was also worried that it would feel like we were in close proximity to hundreds of people (apparently the place can hold 4,000 people at a time) and that the huge crowds would stop it from being relaxing. 

When we first arrived, I thought my worst fears had materialised. We had to queue up to get into the car park. It was impossible to find a space. And, when we arrived at the Plaza (the main shopping centre area) it was absolutely heaving with people. It was seriously stressful.
Relaxing with a glass of Champagne

Plus, we had paid extra for an early check in for our Lodge, but when we got there, it wasn't ready. The cleaners were still in there and when we asked how we could complain, we were told we couldn't complain because technically we could get into the Lodge, even though it wasn't ready. And, because we'd started putting our stuff into the lodge, they couldn't mop the floor. The cleaners finally left half an hour after the early check in time. Not a great start.

However, once the cleaners had gone, the fire was lit and my bottle of Jean Philippe Moulin Champagne was opened, it was a different story. It was actually really nice.

My son playing in one of the
many soft play areas
The lodge was pretty spacious and nicely decorated. It was also well equipped with a huge shower, a cute little chalk board to write messages on and even a wine fridge. You also couldn't tell there were 4,000 other people wandering around outside. It was quiet, private and pretty calm.

Overall, I'd say we had a really nice week. The whole place is well geared up for families with kids of all ages and it was perfect for my one year old. Most of the restaurants, cafes and pubs had soft play areas where my son could play while we enjoyed a coffee or a glass of wine. You couldn't walk for five yards without coming across a play park so he was constantly entertained (meaning we were more relaxed!). 

Everything was in walking distance and easy to get to. And, it was nice for us not to have to worry about cars and traffic (although I've never seen so many bikes in one place and some of the cyclists were pretty crazy!).

The Park looked really nice with all
the Christmas lights
The whole park looked lovely too with all the Christmas decorations, the winter wonderland with Santa's Grotto and the reindeer. It was just magical for all the kids.

A few things definitely needed improving though.

Because cars weren't permitted in the park, it made getting into and leaving your accommodation a hassle and absolute chaos. And, because everyone has pretty much the same check in and departure times, it means there are cars parked all over the place during those periods, turning the park into a massive car park.

It would be better if check in and departure times were staggered to avoid the mass rush to get in and out. It would also make it easier if there were more car parks as our car was parked over 20 minutes walk away from our lodge.

Also, if guests are going to be charged extra for an early check in, then the accommodation needs to be ready on time or a refund offered.
The road outside our lodge
on departure day

We did have some OK meals while we were at Center Parcs. But it would be great if there were one or two more high end restaurants. There were a lot of pubs, chain restaurants and fast food places, but nothing really special. We went out for dinner one night and we ended up going to the Indian because it looked the nicest. It was fine, but not really that special.

I'm hoping to go to Center Parcs Longleat again in the future. It'd be nice to see the resort in something other than rain and I'm sure the village in the forest looks lovely in the sunshine. I'll let you know what summer is like in the Park!

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